Friday, January 26, 2018

Race Report: Tacoma City Marathon

I had a LATE arrival into Seattle after my long transcontinental flight from NYC, but luckily I had an empty seat next to me and no seat in front of me, as the emergency exit door bumped inward on the plane, leaving the row in front to have only two seats.  After landing in Seattle I headed to Enterprise to get my rental car, only to find out that Enterprise shuts down their operation at the airport at 11pm, so all of their reservations move over to Alamo (since they have some type of agreement between the two rental car companies) and score... the $70 economy reservation I booked for the weekend became a $42 SUV, since that's all they had!  I drive down to Tacoma to my Airbnb and get there at 12:45am; thank god my Airbnb host still awake to let me in. I'm STARVING, so I head straight to bar about a block away for a drink (and food, since the kitchen was open til 1am!)

Exploring Olympic National Park

Moss, moss, everywhere.
I get a good night's sleep, but decide to wake up pretty early the next morning, so I could head out toward Olympic National Park via the Hood Canal, a two hour drive away.  I set my GPS to the Staircase Campground right on the southeastern edge of the park, knowing full well I wouldn't be able to really experience the park since it's so huge and has different ecosystems depending on what part of the park you are at.  And it's also known as being a national park that has few drivable roads that penetrate into the park's interior; it's more of a hiker's paradise, with trails that traverse many different biomes, allowing hikers to explore from the coast of the Pacific Ocean to the summit of Mount Olympus.  Olympic National Park's trail network varies in length from less than a mile and a few minutes of hiking to many miles that could take multiple days. The section I decided to visit was in more of the temperate rainforest area.

The dome of the
Washington State Capitol
After taking in a bit of nature that morning, I drove down to Olympia, only an hour south, to check out the Washington State Capitol, America's tallest self-supporting masonry dome, and the fourth tallest in the world, surpassed only by St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, Italy; St. Paul's Cathedral in London, England; and St. Isaac's Cathedral in St. Petersburg, Russia. Also around the Capitol are monuments in tribute to World War I Veterans, Vietnam War Veterans, Korean War Veterans, and Washington State Law Enforcement.

Off to see Here Lies Love in Seattle!
Dinner with the "Titas" of Here Lies Love -
my friends Jaygee, Jangle, Debralee, Melody, and Jonelle!
The ever present disco ball
at the start of the show.
My morning was beginning to wane, and I had limited time to head back to Tacoma to pick up my bib for the race, because I had to drive more, heading into downtown Seattle to the Seattle Repertory Theatre, as I had tickets for the matinee of Here Lies Love.  This would be my sixth time seeing the show, as I got to see it four times in New York City at the Public Theatre downtown, and also at a one-night-only benefit concert at Terminal 5 raising funds for victims of Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines. The Seattle production would be its first full production on the west coast, and several friends would be reprising their roles from the original show in New York, as well as a couple other friends making their debut with the show.  When I arrived, I went all over the place to try to find parking; in fact, in the neighborhood of Queen Anne, where the theatre is located, it is next to impossible to find a good parking space, as most of the streetside parking is 2 hours max and enforceable on weekends.  I ended up parking a few blocks away from the Seattle Repertory Theatre knowing full well that the show is 90 minutes long and I would be hobnobbing with members of the cast afterward.  The show was a blast, and I had a fun time taking in the show again, noticing the parts of the show that were staged differently from New York, which was in a smaller space, as well as feeling super proud to see friends performing in a show that so uniquely portrays the Filipino history.  After the show, I met up with my friends in the cast, and several of us went to go get food at Vietnamese restaurant nearby; they all had an evening show, so our visit was quick.  I headed back to my car well over two hours since I had parked it, and I lucked out -- no ticket. YAY!

With Angie at Engine House No. 9
After the show, I headed back into Tacoma, and realized I still had time to stop by the Old Spaghetti Factory, where my friend Angie had organized a dinner for Marathon Maniacs/Half Fanatics before the next day's run.   At dinner, I end up finding out that Angie booked an Airbnb -- and it was the other room in the same house as I was staying! After dinner, and her settling in, we end up heading over to Engine House No. 9 for another drink to keep the night going, and I even did some karaoke before deciding to call it a night; after all, I was going to wake up at 5am for the race the next morning.

I woke up bright and early the next morning, as shuttles were taking off from the Tacoma Art Museum to take us to the start area at Tacoma Narrows Airport.  I parked my car close by, on a pretty steep hill (thankfully, it's free on Sundays!) and then went right onto a bus, which gradually filled up, ready to take people over the bridge and to the airport, technically located in Gig Harbor, around 20 minutes away.  It was windy and chilly when we arrived, and many folks took refuge inside The Hub, a restaurant located on the tarmac of the airport.

The startline at the airport
(Note for readers: From here on, this blog talks about the race and my experience on the course.  In 2018, the race directors decided to change the course drastically, removing the run across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge because the busing of runners to the start from the Art Museum was proving to costly for the race director.  Some elements of the race are still there, but please remember when reading this that the course will not be the same for at least the 2018 edition and going forward indefinitely.) 

The marathon and marathon relay would start at 7am, with the half marathoners starting an hour later.  It was a beautiful morning, with the sun shining (a far cry from the incessant rain all evening the night before).  The wind was a bit of a nuisance, but that was mostly because we were on a flat and unobstructed airport runway.  Shortly after singing the national anthem and checking off the state of Washington off my anthems list, us marathoners took off, and we headed north along the runway for a short distance before turning right out of the airport's property onto 26th Avenue.


Running along the Tacoma Narrows Airport tarmac
Downhill to the bridge we go!
We followed 26th Avenue along a few short hills as we headed eastward along Stone Drive, which gave us our first real taste of how this race was going to be.  Approximately 9 minutes in, we hit the mile 1 mark, and we turned left onto Jahn Avenue, as we proceeded to the downhill ramp to take us to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.  At the right turn one block up, we had a crew of folks cheering us on before we took off speeding down the ramp with the beautiful bridge in our sights.

Running on the bridge!
Our route took us along the pedestrian pathway situated on the eastbound span.  The Tacoma Narrows Bridge is actually a pair of twin suspension bridges, with the westbound span completed in 1950, while the eastbound span was completed in 2007.  Originally, a single suspension bridge spanned the Tacoma Narrows strait of the Puget Sound, which was completed in 1940, however, it dramatically collapsed due to strong winds that same year.  From the time the deck to the original span was built, it began to move vertically in windy conditions, which led to construction workers giving the bridge the nickname "Galloping Gertie." The winds were predictably strong as we ran across the bridge - not surprising, then, to see the "Severe Side Winds" signs midway through the span.  For fear of my hat flying off my head, I removed it, and held firmly on to it as we pushed forward (and sideways, ha!).  It was roughly a half mile to cross the bridge, fighting the strong winds as the path began to ascend, and we officially arrived into Tacoma's city limits.

The view from the bridge
Welcome to Tacoma
Running thru War
Memorial Park
After finally making it up to the end of the hill, we crossed Jackson Avenue, aided by a policeman stopping traffic as runners made our way through, and continued on a route through the concrete paths within War Memorial Park, a small green patch situated at the end of the bridge.  However, in the light of the April sun, the park was festooned with gorgeous cherry blossom trees, providing a beautiful setting for us to run through as we made our way past the parking lot and onto Skyline Drive, and into a residential neighborhood.  We ran to the end of the street to the dead end, where we picked up back along the sidewalk on the north side of N. 9th Street, and ran eastward along the narrow path, which was separated by orange cones.  We would run about a half mile along this sidewalk before turning right back around and then continuing over the pedestrian bridge that spanned over Washington Route 16.  All along the sidewalk, we saw many humongous earthworms wriggling around, seemingly fresh from the dewy morning, making their way to the moist dirt nearby.  I'm not sure if others saw them, but they were HUGE.

Tacoma's West End neighborhood
After crossing the pedestrian bridge, we continued running around the residential areas of the Skyline neighborhood in Tacoma's West End, running about two miles along Westgate Blvd and then 21st Street, before making a turn south along Proctor Street.   Along the way, I encountered a couple from Calgary, Alberta, wearing some snazzy Canadian singlets, and I remarked about my interest in running in their hometown after hearing about its popular marathon.  The views were quite impressive along the way, as I admired the beauty of the cherry blossom trees in full bloom, and the miles felt really good as the went along.  We turned along N. 7th Street, before hitting mile 8, and then running north along a very nicely manicured Union Avenue, while passing by the University of Puget Sound, only national, independent undergraduate liberal arts college in Western Washington.

Meandering through neighborhoods
We entered Central Tacoma and made our way through what could be considered Tacoma's "Main Street," past the intersection of Proctor and 26th Street.  We looped around various residential streets as we zigzagged our way through the North End, and reached the halfway point along North 42nd Street, where we would eventually meet up with the half marathon runners at Bristol Street. We would run alongside them for the next 3/4 mile (they were just reaching the halfway point of their race), before separating again - us turning left, and them turning right, as we proceeded along 51st Street, to curve around to the entrance to the northernmost tip of Tacoma - Point Defiance Park.  We had a beautiful downhill surrounded by more cherry blossoms along Mildred Street, followed by a strugglebus of an uphill hike just to reach the entrance of the park.

Heading into Point Defiance Park
Old growth forest in
Point Defiance Park
When we got into the park, it was a little confusing as we saw faster runners making their way past us, seemingly finishing a loop of the park. As it turns out, we would be passing the "entrance" area twice.  After being led through some rough terrain - having to run through some sticky mud and grass (that I don't believe was the initial plan to have to deal with running through in the first place-- damn construction!) and past a beautiful Japanese garden, we found ourselves on asphalt yet again.  But, now we were surrounded by the most majestic old growth forest along its aptly named Five Mile Drive.  It was a gradual uphill, and you could totally feel it.  There was quite a bit of walking through, fittingly, the next five miles.

Running down the Puget Sound
Toward the end, after a seemingly endless circuitous route through the quiet park, we finally started to hear some music, and had made it to a fun Blues Brothers themed water station.  Before long, we finally made it back to the entrance of the park, and to the water stop where we were directed to turn right rather than left, and found our way out to the industrial area of Ruston. We then followed the largely redeveloped area of Point Ruston, right along Puget Sound, running on Ruston Way all the way southward, dodging various people, some out to walk with their dogs, many others just recreationally walking on the sidewalk to enjoy the beautiful day, much like we were in the last few miles of our marathon.  Except... we had bibs on, and were clearly involved in a race.

The last hills of the race!
Eventually we made our way off of the side paths and back onto the road, which was Schuster Parkway, within the last three miles of the race.  A surreal moment happened as we continued along this route; a cargo train passed us runners, moving slowly on the left, while a busy Amtrak passenger train, moving Sunday commuters passed us on the right.  The mile 24 mark came and went, and not long after, the 4:45 pacer cruelly passes me by.  I was happy to be running at a decent clip and near my normal, but still little miffed that the pacer passed me.  I did get a chance to catch up a tiny bit because despite next to the coast, there was a very cruel trick -- two small hills were in our way to the finish line - a highway onramp/offramp at mile 25, and then again at mile 26, literally just before the turn to the finish in the Art Museum parking lot.

Victory Headstand!

Nothing like reuniting
with old friends!
I barrelled on through to the finish and made it over the mat in 4:47:59, ecstatic to finish yet another state, and my 11th of the year!  After retrieving my second medal, for finishing my first Marathon Maniacs Signature Series race, and getting a victory headstand photo with one of the steep downtown Tacoma hills behind me, I headed back toward my car to get back to the Airbnb and quickly get showered, so I could head back into Seattle yet again, but this time to the neighborhood of Ballard, to meet up with two friends for a late lunch - my old college friend Nina and her boyfriend ___, who lived further north up in the city of Bellingham; and my former co-worker and roommate in NYC, Cerrissa and her boyfriend ____, who had relocated recently to Seattle.  After a wonderful lunch enjoying each others company, and wandering through Ballard's Sunday Farmers Market, we wandered over to the Ballard Locks to enjoy the rest of the late afternoon.  It was quite the great visit, and I was exhausted after a long day, and headed back to the airport for my flight home that night -- a wonderful visit back to the Pacific Northwest, one I hope to do again soon!

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